VIII. Chronological Systems. - The extreme divergence in the chronological schemes employed by different writers on the history of Babylonia and Assyria has frequently caused no small perplexity to readers who have no special knowledge of the subject. In this section an attempt is made to indicate briefly the causes which have led to so great a diversity of opinion, and to describe in outline the principles underlying the chief schemes of chronology that have been suggested; a short account will then be given of the latest discoveries in this branch of research, and of the manner in which they affect the problems at issue. It will be convenient to begin with the later historical periods, and then to push our inquiry back into the earlier periods of Babylonian and Sumerian history.
Up to certain points no difference of opinion exists upon the dates to be assigned to the later kings who ruled in Babylon and in Assyria. The Ptolemaic Canon (see sect. II.) gives a list of the Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian kings who ruled in Babylon, together with the number of years each of them reigned, from the accession of Nabonassar in 747 B.C. to the conquest of Babylon by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. The accuracy of this list is confirmed by the larger List of Kings and by the principal Babylonian Chronicle; the latter, like the Canon, begins with the reign of Nabonassar, who, it has been suggested, may have revised the calendar and have inaugurated a new epoch for the later chronology. The Ptolemaic Canon is further controlled and its accuracy confirmed by the Assyrian Eponym Lists, or lists of limmi (see sect. II.), by means of which Assyrian chronology is fixed from 911 B.C. to 666 B.C., the solar eclipse of June 15th, 763 B.C., which is recorded in the eponymy of Pur-Sagale, placing the dead reckoning for these later periods upon an absolutely certain basis.
Thus all historians are agreed with regard to the Babylonian chronology back to the year 747 B.C., and with regard to that of Assyria back to the year 911 B.C. It is in respect of the periods anterior to these two dates that different writers have propounded differing systems of chronology, and, as might be imagined, the earlier the period we examine the greater becomes the discrepancy between the systems proposed. This variety of opinion is due to the fact that the data available for settling the chronology often conflict with one another, or are capable of more than one interpretation.
Since its publication in 1884 the Babylonian List of Kings has furnished the framework for every chronological system that has been proposed. In its original form this document gave a list, arranged in dynasties, of the Babylonian kings, from the First Dynasty of Babylon down to the Neo-Babylonian period. If the text were complete we should probably be in possession of the system of Babylonian chronology current in the Neo-Babylonian period from which our principal classical authorities (see sect. II.) derived their information. The principal points of uncertainty, due to gaps in the text, concern the length of Dynasties IV. and VIII.; for the reading of the figure giving the length of the former is disputed, and the summary at the close of the latter omits to state its length. This omission is much to be regretted, since Nabonassar was the last king but two of this dynasty, and, had we known its duration, we could have combined the information on the earlier periods furnished by the Kings' List with the evidence of the Ptolemaic Canon. In addition to the Kings' List, other important chronological data consist of references in the classical authorities to the chronological system of Berossus (q.v.); chronological references to earlier kings occurring in the later native inscriptions, such as Nabonidus's estimate of the period of Khammurabi (or Hammuribi); synchronisms, also furnished by the inscriptions, between kings of Babylon and of Assyria; and the early Babylonian date-lists.
" " (1903)
In view of the uncertainty regarding the length of Dynasties IV. and VIII. of the Kings' List, attempts have been made to ascertain the dates of the earlier dynasties by independent means. The majority of writers, after fixing the date at which Dynasty III. closed by means of the synchronisms and certain of the later chronological references, have accepted the figures of the Kings' List for the earlier dynasties, ignoring their apparent inconsistencies with the system of Berossus and with the chronology of Nabonidus. Others have attempted to reconcile the conflicting data by emendations of the figures and other ingenious devices. This will explain the fact that while the difference between the earliest and latest dates suggested for the close of Dynasty III. is only 144 years, the difference between the earliest and latest dates suggested for the beginning of Dynasty I. is no less than 622 years. A comparison of the principal schemes of chronology that have been propounded may be made by means of the preceding table.
The first column gives the names of the writers and the dates at which their schemes were published, while the remaining columns give the dates they have suggested for Dynasties I., II. and III. of the Kings' List. The systems with the highest dates are placed first in the list; where a writer has produced more than one system, these are grouped together, the highest dates proposed by him determining his place in the series.
Omitting that of Oppert, which to some extent stands in a category by itself, the systems fall into three groups. The first group, comprising the second to the sixth names, obtains its results by selecting the data on which it relies and ignoring others. The second group, comprising the next four names, attempts to reconcile the conflicting data by emending the figures. The third group, consisting of the last two names, is differentiated by its proposals with regard to Dynasty II. It will be noted that the first group has obtained higher dates than the second, and the second group higher dates on the whole than the third.